Blues can’t have enough of Khavanov
Monday, 27 August 2007
Originally published on EuroReport.com in 2000
By Lucas Aykroyd
Alexander Khavanov may not get the recognition he deserves. At 28, he’s too old to be nominated for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. The ex-Dynamo Moscow defenseman isn’t even profiled in the St. Louis Blues media guide. But early in the season, his teammates and opponents are gaining respect for Khavanov’s contributions. Drafted 232rd overall in 1999, he signed with St. Louis on 12 June 2000, less than a month after playing for Team Russia at the World Championships. The 6-2, 190-pound blueliner wasn’t expected to grab a job at training camp, but his smooth-skating style and defensive poise actually vaulted him into St. Louis’s top four rotation alongside last year’s Hart Trophy winner, Chris Pronger. Now he averages more than 20 minutes per game. The son of a university professor, Khavanov revealed his diverse range of interests in conversation with EuroReport’s Lucas Aykroyd after the Blues dumped Vancouver 5-2 at GM Place on 11 November. (In fact, when he was told this would be a story on him, he replied, “Why not a book?”)
EuroReport: How did you enjoy your first visit to Vancouver?
Alexander Khavanov: Pretty good. It’s a big city, a million people, and it feels big, you know? When you look at it from the hotel windows, it looks big. It’s nice. I lived all my life in the city of Moscow, fifteen million people and traffic and stuff like that. So I like big cities.
EuroReport: How surprised were you about making the team this year?
Khavanov: It was surprising. But I can tell anybody the same thing: if you work hard and are honest firstly with yourself, on the field and with the guys you play with, you have a chance. I don’t want to say, “You’re going to do it!” But you have a chance. Somebody’s lucky, somebody’s unlucky. You can do nothing about that. That’s life.
EuroReport: Do you think your example will encourage more older Russian players to come over?
Khavanov: I don’t think so. To do this, I had to change all my psychology. I’m 28 and I came here and I was scared at first, because I left all my friends and girls and parents and cars, everything, at home. I had a bag of hockey stuff with me and that was it. It’s a little bit frustrating in the beginning. Back home, you are “somebody” and you have everything and you don’t need anything except to work honestly. But here, you come and it’s like you have turned the page. You just start writing on this blank page. It’s a good feeling now. I actually can’t imagine what will happen if something goes wrong.
EuroReport: I understand you had a stint in the East Coast Hockey League in 1992-93?
Khavanov: It was just an experience, nothing more. I wouldn’t say it prepared me for the NHL. The thing that prepared me was the last two years I played with Moscow Dynamo for Coach [Zinetula] Bilyaletdinov, who also coached here in Winnipeg and Phoenix for four years. Those two years changed my psychology, my experiencing of the world. They were very good years. I am thankful to him and to the Dynamo organization.
EuroReport: And now, how do you like playing with Chris Pronger?
Khavanov: I asked somebody, “Can you remember any defenseman winning the MVP award?” I could remember only one, Bobby Orr. It’s an extraordinary example. Normally, defensemen couldn’t win that trophy. They don’t score too much and their job is more to destroy than to create something. In modern hockey, he’s really the most valuable player. He spends a [great deal] of time on the ice. He’s very solid. He plays with authority that maybe I lack so far. He’s got authority for both of us! That helps a lot.
EuroReport: Speaking of creating instead of destroying, why did you decide to study civil engineering at the university in Moscow?
Khavanov: If you build a bridge or a building, you can see people using and enjoying it. It’s pretty amazing and the feeling is good. You can see what you’re doing with your hands.
EuroReport: Has your education influenced your approach toward hockey?
Khavanov: Maybe it changed my experience of life. I don’t want to say a lot of bad things about hockey in Russia, but there hockey and education are two things that never can go together. It’s very hard. They spend about twelve hours per day in the training facilities, so they just don’t have time to study. I guess that was a big difference for me, because I felt comfortable outside hockey, in real life, I would say. Because hockey players mostly live in a dream life while they play hockey. But then it becomes a horror movie when you can’t play hockey anymore and you don’t have education. You can do nothing. You start drinking, and it’s frustrating! Here, you can play hockey until you’re 40. In Russia, most guys are finished by the time they’re 33, at the most. Now, the guys are starting to think about it and get educated. I don’t want to say, “Look at me!”, but now they understand they can have both education and hockey. This is very important for the future, because not everybody is going to be a coach. And you have to think about these things today, not tomorrow.
EuroReport: You were quoted recently as saying you “hate money.” This is an unusual attitude for an NHL hockey player.
Khavanov: I wouldn’t really say I “hate money.” But I would never trade my life for money. My life is empty without my friends, my girls, my brothers and parents. If you fill all this space with money and take those other things away, life has no object for me. You cannot spend a billion dollars. I don’t need it. I want just to enjoy my life, now and ten years later, after hockey. Of course, I earn money, I save money, I spend it like a normal person. But it’s not my aim. As long as you’re enjoying life, you do what you have to do. When it’s not fun anymore, you stop. Like in hockey: the people come to the stands to see the guys spill their blood for the jerseys and their cities. That’s how it should be.
EuroReport: Who are your heroes?
Khavanov: I don’t know. I’m too old to have heroes!
EuroReport: Did you have dreams when you were younger?
Khavanov: Hmm. I’ve always wanted to play piano. But I don’t have the time or skills. I still want to, though, and I think that when I’m finished and I have a lot of free time, I will. Just general stuff. I have a Yamaha keyboard at home, but it’s an ugly thing when I’m playing it. I actually turn up the music and try to keep up with it. About heroes, I just don’t know. [thinks] I could give you a couple of Russians, but you don’t know them. There’s a guy, not that I’d want to be like him. He died of drug addiction about two years ago. It’s Anatoli Karupnov [sp?]. He was a singer, and he was just living all out. He wasn’t saving anything for himself. In Russia, we have a term for people like him: “Open soul.” He was about 33 when he died.
EuroReport: What did this make you think about?
Khavanov: I think life is a very clever thing. One person lives until 70 just because they have “something to do,” and another lives until 25. But in that 25 years, he may have done more than the other one. I don’t try to find an ultimate truth or whatever, but I like people who don’t save anything for themselves. Living for yourself is senseless. You have to give back what you can. For instance, there are a lot of people in Russia who are really in need. The pension in Russia is something like 10 dollars a month, and they have to live on that. Obviously, I want to do as much as I can to help. I’m not going to say that I’ll give away all my salary, because I have a life ahead of me. But I don’t just want to live for myself.
EuroReport: What’s your opinion of what happened to Russia at the World Championships in St. Petersburg?
Khavanov: I’m not sure. But I think everyone was sitting in the locker room thinking, “OK, Bure will get it done.” And he was thinking, “OK, Alexei Zhamnov will do it.” And it was like a chain reaction. Everybody thought, “Ah, we’re a good team, we’ll walk through our opponents.” “I couldn’t score today? Oh well, that other guy will score.” Maybe we were overconfident. This is not right.
EuroReport: Now you’ve been over here for fifteen games, how do you think the top Russian teams would do against NHL teams?
Khavanov: We could try! But it’s pretty hard right now, because the rules are different and the styles are different. But I think Dynamo could do pretty good. Right now we have six guys from that team playing in the NHL. I wouldn’t say we would win, but we would fight for it. After all, the NHL has the top hockey players in the world.
EuroReport: You speak great English. How did you learn?
Khavanov: My university training and some time in the U.S. helped. That’s life experience. As you get older, you have to study these things. I’m glad, even outside the United States, that I know English, because I can meet a lot of people in Russia. It’s a very open place right now, and Moscow is a great city. We have lots of tourists and visitors and many of them don’t speak Russian, only English. So it’s a chance to communicate with them.
EuroReport: What are your goals for this season?
Khavanov: I just want to play hockey. At first I was thinking of studying when I came here. But now I’m in the NHL, I don’t want to be distracted from hockey in any way.
EuroReport: What would you like to study?
Khavanov: I was thinking about computer programming. To be old and sit at home and make some games for kids, that would be great fun. Not like operating systems. Just a couple of games. You have an idea and you try to do it. That’s why I’m here. I’m just another kind of entertainer. A few doors down from Nirvana and Kurt Cobain!